INTERNATIONAL – Kurds are at risk for large-scale genocide by the regional powers of Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Syria, all of which have sizable Kurdish minority populations.
Currently the largest threat comes from Turkey. On January 20, 2018 Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan launched cross-border military operations into northwestern Syria with the code name “Operation Olive Branch”. The mission aimed to oust Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (or YPG) from the district of Afrin (GenocideWatch.com writes).
Turkey considers the YPG to be an extension of the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been waging an insurgency within Turkey on and off since 1984 in the name of greater rights and regional autonomy. The YPG denies being an extension of the PKK and has been allied with the United States (among other countries) in the fight against the Islamic State/Da’esh since 2014.
The Turkish Armed Forces have conducted Operation Olive Branch with little apparent concern for the laws of war, dropping bombs and shelling towns indiscriminately. Hundreds of civilians around Afrin, including religious minorities displaced by the Syrian war and by Da’esh, have been killed. There is evidence that suggests that Turkish forces may have intentionally targeted civilians.
The Turkish government and media has characterized the YPG as a “terrorist organization,” casting its invasion of Syria as an anti-terror operation. It has also referred to its aggression against its southern neighbor as “jihad,” echoing language used by ISIS and other extremist elements.
The term “terrorist” is used in Turkey as a catch-all phrase to dehumanize opponents and legitimize the suppression of human rights and freedoms. Since the attempted coup of 2016, the Turkish government has dismissed thousands of civil servants and jailed hundreds of teachers, professors, journalists, politicians, human rights workers and other cultural leaders for being suspected supporters of “the opposition”. Many of these detainees have been charged with terrorism.
The term “terrorist” has also been used to justify military-style violence against the Kurdish minority populations in the country’s South East, where the PKK presence is strong.
The Afrin operation is not unlike “anti-terror” operations conducted in South East Turkey since 2016, where, in towns like Cizre, Turkish security forces have displaced much of the population, imposed harsh curfews (sometimes lasting twenty-four hours a day for weeks and even months), cut off water and electricity supplies, killed dozens of civilians, destroyed cultural institutions (including mosques), and laid waste to homes by defecating on furniture and bedding, destroying cooking implements, and killing domestic and farm animals. Soldiers have also written racist slogans on buildings and have hung the Turkish flag from windows.
In Cizre – as in Afrin – the bodies of killed female fighters have been mutilated, videotaped, and shared widely on social media.
In Syria, the Turkish military and the forces under its leadership (which may include Da’esh fighters), declared total control of Afrin on March 25, 2018. They have been accused of pursuing a policy of “demographic change” in the Afrin district by settling villages with Turkmen and Arab families originally from outside of the area.
The majority of Afrin’s population, an estimated 150,000 people, had already retreated from the town along with YPG fighters before the arrival of Turkish troops. Recent reports from occupied Afrin tell of dozens of girls and young women being kidnapped by Turkish and jihadi forces and subjected to systematic rape. There are also reports of the forced conversion of Yazidis.
Erdoğan has vowed to continue further east to Manbij and Kobane in Syria as well as to the Sinjar and Nineveh regions of Iraq, ostensibly to destroy the PKK, which has bases in Iraq’s northern mountains.
In the wake of a Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) referendum on independence in Northern Iraq in September 2017, which angered neighboring countries with significant Kurdish minority populations, and to which they responded with the harsh and coordinated economic isolation of the KRG, Turkey’s aggression into neighboring states threatens the long-term security of all Kurdish populations in the region.